Passenger ships cruise back into Nunavut waters

12 hamlets expect cruise visits this season now that temporary ban has expired

Passenger cruise ships are returning to Nunavut this week after a two-year ban due to COVID-19 concerns expired in February. (File photo by Jane George)

By Madalyn Howitt

There’s going to be more traffic in the waters around Nunavut this summer as international cruise ships return to the territory’s shores.

They’re back after a two-year sailing ban on passenger ships and pleasure crafts in Canadian Arctic waters — put in place in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region — expired at the end of February.

Twelve hamlets are expecting passenger cruise ships to visit their communities this summer: Cambridge Bay, Cape Dorset, Clyde River, Gjoa Haven, Grise Fiord, Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Kugluktuk, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq and Resolute Bay, according to a list from the Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

The earliest cruises are scheduled to arrive in Iqaluit and Pond Inlet this week, and the last cruises for the season will sail through the territory at the end of September.

Most communities expect one to three cruise visits, but cruise hotspot Pond Inlet is preparing to welcome 19 passenger cruise ships and at least seven private yachts, said Ernest Merkosak, manager of Nattinak Visitors Centre in Pond Inlet.

“When I first started about eight years ago, a maximum of 12 cruises came for the summer. We did a great job, all the cruise ships were affected positively by it, they spread the word, and [now] more and more cruise ships are wanting to visit.”

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Pond Inlet sits at the mouth of the Northwest Passage, making it an obvious stop for ships sailing through the Arctic, Merkosak said.

The Government of Nunavut’s 2018-19 annual report on tourism said 12 cruise ships embarked on 21 separate voyages in Nunavut waters between July 2019 and September 2019. That puts the 2022 season on par with pre-pandemic ship traffic.

Visiting cruise companies will include Quark Expeditions, Adventure Canada, France-based cruise line Ponant, Norway-based Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions and others.

Most cruise ships passing through Nunavut this season will have 125 to 200 passengers onboard while private yachts and pleasure crafts usually have 30 to 40 passengers, Merkosak said, although one ship from Hurtigruten has the capacity for up to 500 people.

After a hamlet grants permission for a cruise ship to visit, the visitors centre will work with the cruise line to organize local tours and cultural performances.

Visits are often brief, usually only three to five hours, and cruise ship itineraries can be very unpredictable. Poor sailing conditions, ice and weather commonly cause disruptions to sailing schedules.

Government of Nunavut, Employment Opportunities

“We try and be as flexible as we can,” Merkosak said.

Hosting more than 100 visitors all at once, even for just a few hours, can also be a challenge for some communities.

“There are people that are against it,” Merkosak said of cruise visits, citing some concerns he’s heard from hunters about tourists veering off designated hiking routes and disrupting hunting grounds.

“But there are some people that are encouraging more and more cruises because it’s actually helping us financially,” he said.

The GN estimated in its tourism report the economic impact of cruise visits in 2019 was $677,258, with much of that going to local artists who sell their work to tourists.

“I think the important thing to emphasize is the expedition cruise industry has been absolutely roasted by COVID,” said Alex McNeil, director of expedition experience and innovation at Quark Expeditions.

“At our company, we had zero revenue from March 2020 until earlier this year, and we are still seeing some significant financial impact.”

After a two-year absence of cruises in Nunavut, McNeil said it’s even more important for cruise lines like Quark to build up good partnerships with the hamlets that host them.

“T​here’s a lot of interest in nurturing more meaningful relationships with communities,” he said.

“The experience that the community has when one of our ships visits should be at least equal to the experience that the guests have. So if the guests have a great experience, and the community does not have a great experience, that’s a failed visit.”

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by 867 on

    This is too bad. Last few years with no cruise ships, many marine animals have been coming back closer to the communities. Wonder if they will be scarred to return now because of the ships?

    • Posted by ClimateChange on

      Wonder if any of them will have icebreakers to help them reach destination. Keep going the same way and there is no turning back for our planet melting. There is no monetary gain for our western community when the tourists walk around for a couple of hours.

    • Posted by Igunaaqi on

      ships scaring them off? what about all that shooting and your outboard motors? what about the pile driving in the ocean in Pond Inlet the last couple of years? what about over hunting? Oh yeah…mining companies are just easier to blame cause the locals are never at fault right?

  2. Posted by Mosquitos on

    Cruise Ships are as nuisance as mosquitoes in summer.

  3. Posted by tuktuborel on

    With the concerns raised about mine ship traffic one wonders about the big increase in cruise ships. Are they using “clean fuel” now and are they still dumping their scrubber water into the Northwest passage.

    I really hope that Nunavut is monitoring the water ways.

  4. Posted by Pangloss on

    If you wonder why it is so difficult to achieve economic growth from the bottom up in Nunavut, read these comments; a full in display of our insularity.

    • Posted by Ian on

      Look at the bears look at the bears,

    • Posted by Vision on

      If you really dig deeper and research the economic benefits from cruise ships you would find out that there is very little if any economic benefit from these cruise ships, these cruise ships are designed and operated in a way that the passengers spend as much of their money on cruise ships and not outside of it, that is why you see these comments, bunch of people coming off these cruise ships walk around town, take pictures maybe buy a little gift but probably not.
      They already spent thousands of dollars on the cruise ship and they don’t want to spend anymore.
      It’s a valid concern having these cruise ships coming up here, in the Caribbean they dump their sewage and garbage in the sea.
      A little bit more research and you will learn about the benefits or lack of benefits from cruise ships.

  5. Posted by Environmental hazard on

    Cruise ships are environmental hazards, they pollute so much, sewage, laundry waste dumped into the sea, garbage.
    Huge concerns in many places where cruise ships are starting to return.


  6. Posted by Air pollution on

    A little bit of research and you will see how bad these cruise ships are for the environment.
    15 of the largest cruise ships account for more pollution then all the cars in the world,
    Let that sink in for a bit, now that’s air pollution, now solid waste that the cruise ships have to get rid of while on their travel, the lack of benefits for communities and environmental hazards from cruise ships it’s just not worth the very little economic benefits that may come from cruise ships.

  7. Posted by Interesting on

    Interesting, I was just watching the news on cruise ships returning to Italy and people there protesting their return, the last two years with out cruise ships the environment in Venice has improved so much they even see dolphins returning to the area, the water is cleaner and the air is much better.
    I never knew cruise ship caused so much pollution and didn’t know cruise ships are so bad for the environment before.
    Good to know, I’m not taking a cruise ship again.

  8. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    this is not good

    the marine animals were back in our waters because of less traffic. increased sea life were bountiful and now look at what is on the horizon.

    not only was there less traffic, but our Canadian Ice Breakers were able to concentrate on escorting crucial Ships, Annual Resupply of NEAS, NSSI and Fuel Tankers to each Community without having to worry about tourists wanting pictures.

    not only this, but how can we assured that these Ships do not have an active COVID outbreak onboard? all over the news once again are numerous outbreaks from these floating petri dishes of COVID. now what about monkeypox? I’m sure one or two of these vessels will be littered with more virii.

  9. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Well great start to the season.

    National Geographic Resolution was in Cambridge Bay on Friday. Lots in town with no masks despite their own site stating their guests and staff will wear them on shore.

    They leave and get to Ulukhaktok and 14 confirmed cases on board.


    • Posted by Kirk on

      That’s cruise ships for you, I wonder what kind of variant they brought over?

      Ballast water from the ships also bring in foreign micronisms and their holding tanks release black water, sewage. The diesel engines on one ship produce more pollution then all the trucks in Nunavut, cruise ships are just not worth it.


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